How Do You Handle the Pressure of Stress? – Part 1

Written by Anil Bajnath, MD
Posted July 6, 2021

Dear Longevity Insider,

The past year and a half has left most Americans feeling higher levels of stress. Stress has long been suggested to be an important correlate of gut-related health issues, inflammation, heart disease, and more. A hormonal response system to stress known as the HPA axis is involved with how our body responds and manages stressful events. How can you better manage your reactions to stress? 
 
What is Stress?

Stress is defined as any stimulus that disrupts the body’s internal balance. Stress comes in many different forms and shapes. It includes:
  • Acute Stress
  • Episodic Acute Stress
  • Chronic Stress
Acute stress begins after a traumatic event such as a car accident or when you ride a rollercoaster. Generally, your systems return to normal after the danger subsides. 
 
Episodic acute stress is recurring episodes of acute stress. For example, this may apply to an individual who is taking far more responsibilities than their plate can handle. 
 
Chronic stress is when you have high levels of stress for an extended period of time. Chronic stress is dangerous as, over time, it will significantly wear down your physical and mental health. How so?
 
Stress, Health, and HPA Axis

Chronic stress over time has been linked to several health issues. Chronic exposure to stress hormones keeps our feedback loop in overdrive, wearing down the adrenal glands, leading to adrenal dysfunction. 
 
Our body has two systems within our autonomic nervous system:
  1. Parasympathetic Nervous System
  2. Sympathetic Nervous System
Parasympathetic Nervous System: Also known as, “rest and digest” is responsible for our body’s rest-and-digestion response. Our parasympathetic nervous system begins in our brain and acts on areas and functions of the body such as:
  • Constricts pupils
  • Stimulates flow of saliva
  • Slows heartbeat
  • Stimulates peristalsis and secretion
  • Stimulates bile release
  • Contract bladder.
Sympathetic Nervous System: Also known as “fight or flight,” this is the body’s rapid response to a harmful or extremely stressful situation. When your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, a part of your brain called the amygdala sends a distress signal to another part known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system, which signals the adrenal glands to distribute a flash flood of epinephrine or adrenaline into the bloodstream. Physical signs include (but aren't limited to) dilated pupils, flushed skin, trembling, and increased heart rate.

On Thursday, we'll dive more into the world of stress, your nervous system, and what you can start doing immediately.
 

To your longevity,

Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Officer, Longevity Insider HQ